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#028: What are trauma responses and how do they impact your life?

Traumatic stress reactions are normal responses to abnormal circumstances.

David Luescher
3 min read

Hi All!

A big thanks to all of you who replied to the last newsletter and sent me their feedback on the new format as well as on the exercise. I’m happy to hear that it resonates with you!

Last week we had a look at what trauma really is and gave you a journal writing prompt to help you reflect on your past life experiences.

Today I want to help you understand what common trauma reactions are and how they can impact your life.

As always, I'm keen to hear what insights you gain from completing the exercises and look forward to hearing from you via email.

Until next week,


An idea for you to consider

Trauma responses are the reactions in the aftermath of trauma.

These reactions vary in severity and depend on the response style of each person.

It is important to note that response styles are individual and that, generally speaking, one type is not better than another.

In other words: the response style is less important than the degree to which coping efforts successfully allow one to continue handling daily life and its associated challenges.

For instance, not everybody needs to express emotions associated with trauma and talk about the trauma, but if it somebody’s reaction, it can definitely help them a lot to process their trauma.

Below you find an exemplary list of common trauma reactions:

  • Emotional dysregulation: difficulty regulating emotions such as anger, anxiety, sadness, and shame.
  • Numbing: a biological process whereby emotions are detached from thoughts, behaviors, and memories.
  • Somatization: bodily symptoms (e.g. feeling tired, headache, etc.) or dysfunctions to express emotional distress.
  • Hyperarousal and sleep disturbances: Hyperarousal is the body’s way of remaining prepared. It is characterized by sleep disturbances, muscle tension, and a lower threshold for startle responses.
  • Cognitive errors: Misinterpreting a current situation as dangerous because it resembles, even remotely, a previous trauma.
  • Excessive or inappropriate guilt: Attempting to make sense cognitively and gain control over a traumatic experience by assuming responsibility or possessing survivor’s guilt, because others who experienced the same trauma did not survive.
  • Idealization: Demonstrating inaccurate rationalizations, idealizations, or justifications of the perpetrator’s behavior, particularly if the perpetrator is or was a caregiver.
  • Substance abuse: e.g. excessive consumption of alcohol or other drugs. Often coincides with numbing.
  • Avoidance: Individuals begin to avoid people, places, or situations to alleviate unpleasant emotions, memories, or circumstances. Often coincides with anxiety and the promotion of anxiety symptoms.

Traumatic stress reactions are normal reactions to abnormal circumstances and are not signs of mental illness or disorder.

However, while many of these reactions can be helpful in the immediate aftermath of the trauma, they can be an obstacle to living a fulfilled life if these reactions lead to persistent unhealthy patterns of thought and action or a distorted belief system.

This is why trauma awareness and processing past trauma can be one lever in living a more fulfilling life.

Traumatic stress reactions are normal responses to abnormal circumstances. While they can help in the short term to continue to cope with everyday life or living, in the long term they can be an obstacle to a fulfilling life if these reactions lead to persistent unhealthy patterns of thought and action or a distorted belief system.
Reflect: Then consider sharing this idea with others.

A quote for you to ponder

“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.”  -  Bessel A. van der Kolk

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